Reasons to be cheerful – and fearful – about summer flights


As a warm up for a meeting about aviation disarray, the parliamentary search procedure was ideal: laptops out, belts off, coins jangling into the plastic tray …

My destination was Committee Room 8, where I had been booked as the warm-up act for the business select committee’s inquiry into flight cancellations and compensation.

Unless you have been in Committee Room Pluto you will be aware that flight cancellations have been rife ever since coronavirus travel restrictions lifted.

The business select committee has done what no other organisation has managed, which is to get senior executives from British Airways, easyJet and Tui to answer questions about the causes and the consequences of their grounding flights.

There has been plenty written about how slow security clearance is stopping trained staff starting work – including 142 easyJet cabin crew all ready to go save for the all-important airside access ID pass.

But I want to share with you some of the revelations beneath the headlines, which I hope will inform your understanding of this messy business.

1 Security sign-off is a passion killer. Aviation is not the sexy industry it once was, and many successful applicants for jobs are simply not prepared to wait 14 weeks between interview and security clearance.

2 Ground handler Swissport has several full-time staff at its bases doing nothing but chasing up employment references for the purposes of security clearance.

3 Tui, Britain’s biggest holiday company, normally has two fully crewed planes on standby. But this summer it has five available.

4 During Covid, the most experienced staff were more likely to leave because they had more valuable severance terms – exactly the opposite of a rational outcome for airlines and airports. Next time they need to shrink, perhaps the person who was hired two years ago, rather than two decades ago, should be given a better offer.

5 A fundamental reason for the disorder, says the Unite union, is air fares as low as £20. “Too cheap,” says national aviation organiser Oliver Richardson. Pay more, get more, he believes.

6 Tui has gone entire years without cancelling an outbound flight – and until 2022 the firm had never cancelled a flight for baggage-handling issues.

7 Over the weekend at the start of the main half-term, Tui had to cancel 32 flights at very late notice. The company tried to find any available aircraft – at any price – but they were all being used to carry fans to and from the Champions’ League final in Paris.

8 Swissport, ground handler for Tui and many other airlines, has a sickness rate that peaked a few weeks ago at 10 per cent and is now around 5 per cent.

9 British Airways has pro-actively cancelled 16,500 flights over the summer to align its schedule with available resources – an average of almost 90 per day, although The Independent calculates there are usually more than 100.

10 Aviation leaders ought to get out more – in front of the travelling public.

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